Review: Food – Force Majeure and Belvoir with La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Images: Kate Box and Emma Jackson | Supplied

Not a co-pro with the host company but a buy-in or presentation by La Boite Theatre Company as part of its 2013 Season, this production co-directed by Kate Champion and writer Steve Rodgers‘ FOOD is a delicious, light confection with some rewarding chewy bits. Buy-ins (or ‘brought ins’ as I heard this referred to during the week) of work made outside a producing company’s own house are contentious beasts for some – seen as filling a season spot with an import and taking away work from local artists. Others are delighted that companies provide theatre-goers with the opportunity to see excellent work from beyond in our ‘common-wealth of national Theatres’ (hat tip to the late, great Bille Brown who introduced me to this term and concept). Whatever your thinking on the matter (and I’m pretty partisan about this), there is no doubt that it’s a good thing to have the opportunity to see excellent work from outside your own patch from time to time. Continue reading Review: Food – Force Majeure and Belvoir with La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Review: Tender Napalm – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

What to say – what further words to add to the experience that is Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley, directed by David Berthold, choreographed by Garry Stewart and currently playing as part of the Brisbane Festival?

The built-in shock factor in this extraordinary piece of cerebral and visceral theatre lies in the words and in the way they are re-imagined and configured in tandem with the body at rest and in extraordinary motion. Sounds and energies are articulated, spun and reshaped to create the most wonderful and terrifying stories, the kind that are the stuff of a child’s daydreams and nightmares.

A reading reveals Ridley’s shocking poetical fantasies and that, in itself, is a rich experience. His writing for young people is evident in the text not just in his monsters and monkeys and battles that pepper the dialogue but also in the way the characters engage with their fantasies – improvising and blocking one another, weaving plots on the fly – playing. You can hear this approach at work in school playgrounds and backyards. It is only in performance – at play – that this text’s emotional depths and theatrical sophistication are realised.

This is a bold, energetic production that doesn’t let you slip away for a second and, as I watched, at times holding my breath, I was reminded of Jerzy Grotowski‘s words “The actor will do, in public, what is considered impossible.” That’s part of the thrill of this work. Continue reading Review: Tender Napalm – La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

Review: A Hoax – La Boite and Griffin Theatre Companies

It’s not often that Brisbane sees a ‘world premiere, but the recent partnership of La Boite and Griffin means that Brisbane audiences ar e the first in the world to see Rick Viede’s new play A Hoax. It’s a privilege for which I think audiences will be extremely grateful.

It’s the premise of the play that steals the show for me. Anthony Dooley (Glenn Hazeldine) is a middle-aged white man, and a struggling writer. Anthony pens a beautiful and brutal memoir titled Nobody’s Girl. The only issue is that it’s not his. It’s the memoir of a fictional indigenous woman called ‘Currah’. Anthony employs an enthusiastic indigenous girl, Mirri, (Shari Sebbens) to play the role of Currah, and sets about fooling literary agents, publishers, and eventually, the world. Hilarity and disaster ensue.

Rick Viede’s playwrighting success has been meteoric. His first play, Whore, picked up several awards and toured internationally. A Hoax is his second play, but it is not the work of an immature or inexperienced writer. The satire here is razor sharp and disturbingly true. Viede leaves nothing at the door. There are discussions and debates on everything: the media, truth, identity, sexuality, gender politics, and race. It’s refreshing and smart, and deliberately thought-provoking. In the interval, my partner and I fiercely debated the character’s motivations and morality. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so engaged in the ideas that a play presents.

Viede weaves a complicated web. A brash but damaged publisher (Sally McKenzie) and her flamboyant assistant (Charles Allen), make up a tight four hander. Viede’s brilliant one-liners and beautifully structured scenes are slightly compromised by a slightly dislocated structure overall. The play spans over four years, and character’s motivations and attitudes jump quite spectacularly. Sometimes this is unclear. It’s a lot to ask of the actors. Glenn Hazeldine, playing the ‘real’ author, masters these difficult transitions with ease. The character of Anthony Dooley is asked to rise and fall and rise again. In the hands of a lesser performer, the character of Anthony could be alienating or unlikeable, but Mr Hazeldine’s performance is seamless and compelling.

Sally McKenzie’s performance of the publisher is funny and memorable, and will only grow in the weeks to come. In Currah, Rick Viede has written a theatrical rarity: a complex and contemporary indigenous female character. For this, he must be thanked. Ms Sebbens performs her well, and is strongest in her most vulnerable moments, which arise unexpectedly. Charles Allen has the most difficult journey to travel with his character, but his delivery of the climactic scene is compelling and drew the audience to the edge of their seats.

The director, Lee Lewis, architects the musicality of each scene beautifully. The unexpected climax is particularly stunning. The set, a gleaming and anonymously blank hotel room, is cleverly designed by Renee Mulder. Steve Toulmin, who provides music, sound and AV design, gives a life to scene transitions that keeps the engine of the piece motoring along. For me, the edgy rock soundtrack and slick scene changes were an absolute triumph. It’s an excellent collaboration between Toulmin and Lewis. Jason Glenwright‘s lighting is subtle and incredibly well-conceived.

If you like your theatre raw, book your tickets early. The opening night performance at times felt incredibly fresh and live. There were quite a few hiccoughs along the way, and it seemed a few of the actors occasionally lost their footing. However, a few performances will see the dust settle, and the ensemble will find their groove. This is a great show for senior high school students who don’t mind the occasional swear word, and you could even take your slightly trendy and politically interested parents. A Hoax manages to be both blackly dark and beautifully comic at the same time. For this, and its ideas, it will no doubt have a long and fruitful future.

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Review: Midsummer (a play with songs) by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre -Traverse Theatre (Edinburgh) & La Boite Theatre Company at The Roundhouse

This, for me, was pretty much a perfect evening in the theatre. Silly and sad, lyrical and earthy, and always tender at heart, this marvellous two-hander from Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre, currently on tour around Australia, is a sheer delight. Judging by the ovation at play’s end and broad smiles, the others at the sold-out opening night performance felt the same. Just a tip at the top of this review – get your ticket now.

Traverse Theatre, founded in 1963, is Scotland’s leading ‘new writing’ company. This work from 2008 was created and workshop-honed by both actors (Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon) and writer-director David Greig and songwriter Gordon McIntyre. The play kicks off with the meeting of Helena and Bob, two mismatched 35-year olds who meet in a bar at the start of the Midsummer long-weekend. It’s an unlikely coupling as both are all too aware. However, it’s Midsummer and anything can happen; we know that, don’t we theatre-lovers? As writer David Greig puts it, it’s a ‘love-story told from two perspectives – the man and the woman.’ It’s also a love poem to the great, grey city of Edinburgh where (as I recall) the beer is dark and the men pasty – the latter from the lack of sunshine.

I can’t recall a play that is as deliberately grounded in the geography and feel of place as is Midsummer… .  Indeed, a handy map in the front of the programme (which, sweetly, includes Traverse Theatre’s location itself) tracks protagonists’ Helena and Bob’s journey over one MAAAD!, debauched, hilarious Midsummer long-weekend. It’s a magic time for those in the far north where the hours of night float upon those of day  … . I can’t recall the exact phrase, but there are glorious moments of lyricism like this in the play’s dialogue as well as gritty Scots’ vernacular. Midsummer … is a play with music – not a musical – and its simplicity and urban-folk sound sung and accompanied by the actors is just … right. Is there a more romantic-sounding instrument than the acoustic guitar or a more endearing than a ukelele? I think not. We get both. By the way, if you like hearing authentic dialects in plays (as I do) then you are going to love this one.

The Roundhouse can accommodate 400, which is close to the Traverse’s own intimate 300-seater home room. This kind of space – here configured to a three-sided ‘thrust’ staging – allows the audience to get up close. It’s ideal for a play about intimacy.

The set by designer Georgia McGuinness is a marvel of simplicity without ever screaming ‘We’re on tour,’ and it fits beautifully into the big room at La Boite. The focus in an all-purpose room space is a large bed, itself a clever bit of stage machinery that provides most of the space for the action, hiding and revealing props in turn.

Ms Bissett and Mr Pidgeon, who have been with the show from the get-go, are a joy to watch across the couple of hours that track Helena and Bob’s crazed weekend. Midsummer … is an actor-focussed work and it makes big calls on its actors by foregrounding role-playing and story-telling. Both are simply terrific. You might think playing over such a long time would leave stale marks but there isn’t a hint of slick. They play with each other and the audience in what is a finely-honed duet – their cheekiness charming and drollery a pure delight. Mr Greig steers his team and Midsummer‘s tempo-rhythms with a fine hand.

Midsummer first appeared in a ‘low-budget production’ at the end of 2008 and went on to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2009. It’s been a huge success along the way – first in its hometown, and then in London, Canada, the USA and now Australia. The presentation gives production credits to La Boite, Merrigong Theatre Company (Wollongong) and Richard Jordan Productions.  Midsummer … ‘s genesis from low-budget indie to international success is heartwarming, to say the least. It’s the kind of co-production model to watch and emulate.

Midsummer is one to catch and treasure. Truly …

 

Images: Lisa Tomasetti

Review: Ruben Guthrie – La Boite Theatre at The Roundhouse

My local bottle department practically gives away the booze. Pop in any afternoon of the week and there’s almost always a tasting going on – handy little refreshments for drivers heading home after a hard day. The specials are stacked up in tempting piles round the shop. When I remark on the week’s ‘buy one, get one free’ deals, the cheery guy behind the counter tells me that there’s a wine mountain ‘out there’ and that “Someone’s got to drink it.”

La Boite’s latest production, and the last for their 2011 season, is Ruben Guthrie by actor, writer, director Brendan Cowell. In the course of the play Ruben’s Czech girlfriend Zoya refers to Australia as a beautiful ‘alcoholic country,’ and Cowell’s play points its considerable critical armoury right at our culture’s denial of the problem. Someone’s got to drink it after all. Whilst the play is pretty gut-wrenching at times, it’s also wickedly funny. Cowell’s shredding of the ethics of the advertising industry is satirical writing at its best. I think it’s his best play yet.

If this corker of a social satire didn’t make you laugh so much you’d weep. Ruben Guthrie is a tragedy about the fall and fall of a talented young man whose health, career and relationships are ruined by booze and drugs. Ruben creates ad campaigns but wants to be taken seriously as a writer – cockiness masks his insecurity. Ruben’s lifestyle where the ‘caine is freely available and grog flows to inspire creativity, celebrate, commiserate and, well, just because you can, see him sucked under. He loses his girlfriend at the start of the play, gets the wake-up call and decides to go on the wagon. Brendan Cowell’s Writer’s Note speaks of the year in which he gave up alcohol not just because he knew he was drinking too much, but to see what it would be like to go without. The experiences he had, the ‘run-ins’ with his ‘baffled’ friends and family who couldn’t understand his denial of ‘the great drink’ were the inspiration for this play.

David Berthold directs a fine, unvarnished production that takes full advantage of the theatre’s architectural space – we’re back in the round, by the way. Mr Berthold admits to admiring the play greatly, and it’s not hard to see why. Mr Cowell’s witty text flows from the compassion at its heart, and its dialogue springs off the page. Berthold has orchestrated its rhythms and thematics with confidence and sensitivity. The play also needs a gutsy company to have it work the way it needs to, and the director has cast it beautifully.

Caroline Kennison

Ruben Guthrie has a dream team ensemble headed by Gyton Grantley who is on stage as Ruben for all but a few seconds of the action. Mr Grantley’s performance is quite superb; it’s assured and powerful, and his Ruben utterly charming and heartbreaking. He is wonderfully supported by Hayden Spencer as Ray his boss, by Caroline Kennison as his mother Susan, and Kathryn Marquet as Virginia his AA sponsor and lover. New faces Lauren Orrel (Zoya) Darren Sabadina (Damian) and John McNeill (Peter) are terrific as fiancée, best mate and father respectively.

Design by Renée Mulder is stripped back and suggestive of a boxing ring right down to its bright blue squares. It’s absolutely perfect for the no-holds-barred slugfest which is the play. Jason Glenwright (lighting) and Guy Webster (sound) complete the design team with meticulously detailed lighting, composition and soundscapes.

The production is wonderfully theatrical and performative; the audience is brought into the action as Ruben addresses us as fellow meeting attendees. The cast sit around the perimeter of the square within the round and watch the action, setting and striking furniture and props, coming and going into the ring for the ’rounds’ that play out over two acts. Yes, there is an interval where you can get a drink. You are invited to bring it back into the theatre if you wish. As an aside, I asked the bar staff whether sales had been up or down during the season. They indicated rather discreetly that they hadn’t really noticed a difference. You could, however, feel a real tension in the room as Ruben agonises over the temptation of drinks forced upon him by friends and family. I don’t mind admitting my own inner voice was screaming, ‘Don’t do it!’

Don’t miss it. This is an excellent realisation of a very good, contemporary, and very Australian play.

Ruben Guthrie by Brendan Cowell plays at The Roundhouse Theatre for a limited season. Catch it between the time you’re reading this and its closing performance on 13th November. Details on the company website.

Images by Al Caeiro
Main Image: Gyton Grantley and Kathryn Marquet 

Review: boy girl wall – La Boite Theatre & The Escapists

September 2011 – and they’re back! We probably won’t see it again this time since the season is sold out, and we hear that Mr Stibbard has added new jokes too! Ah well. Get along to one of the funniest, most inventive pieces of theatre you’ll ever see. It’s heading off on a national tour in 2012, but Brisbane has a chance to see it again for the shortest of seasons. Get in fast for tickets.

April 2011 – Greenroom loved it last year. We loved it again last night. Apart from a couple of tweaks – mostly to accommodate the fact that there were no walls in the new space of La Boite’s Roundhouse – this is the same, joyously abandoned performance by master story-teller Lucas Stibbard which delighted audiences in Brisbane at last year’s !Metro Arts season. This reviewer hasn’t changed her mind one little bit, and chalked up her latest response (with new pictures by Al Caeiro) for your reading pleasure. How’s that for thrift! Original review

It may not be spring, but it’s always time for the warmth of a love story, especially when the cool winds and showers of autumn sweep around your ankles and make deciding what to wear to the theatre a right pain. So it was a real thrill to head to the theatre last night to welcome back a tale of young love and other local hazards boy girl wall. With no more than chalk, some blackboards, a couple of puppet socks, a few props and an overhead projector, Lucas Stibbard creates and embodies an entire world in the big, comfy room at Brisbane’s Roundhouse Theatre. It’s a sweet, comic and touching confection from The Escapists who, with this production, have been drawn into the La Boite fold for Season 2011.  The boy girl wall team is the same creative collective that brought you The Attack of the Attacking Attackers some time back. The Escapists’ manifesto: imagination, theatricality and the joy of play are all joyously present in boy girl wall.

Suited up and with a fetching new haircut Lucas Stibbard, like his quirky imagination, takes flight through La Boite Theatre‘s home room.

Stibbard’s is a wonderfully original and intelligent voice, and he leaps and whirls in a non stop, dazzling performance in the best Aussie tradition of yarn spinning. Flicking and switching between characters with the ease of someone totally in charge and on top of his game, it’s a 70 minute delight which flies by at full tilt and as nimbly as the story teller himself.

There’s an entire gallery of characters in boy girl wall but the central protagonists Thom and Alethea, who live side by side in a West End (inner city Brisbane) apartment, are separated by the eponymous Wall. Each is having a bad, bad week; each is attempting unsuccessfully to cope – alone. As narratives go, their individual stories and how they come together – it’s a romance after all – is pretty much it. In this production, the great joy lies in the telling of a simple but unforgettable tale.

Along the way Thom and Alethea encounter some marvellous characters – my favorites: the Magpie of Montague Road; Thursday – yes the day of the week; and Dan – Apple’s thinnest computer yet. There’s also the philosophical powerbox, a Gothic librarian, a toffee-chewing Scottish cabbie, the anxious Wall himself and the serial theatre sports junkie/lover of impro – actually, I think I loved them all.

Last year after the show at !Metro Arts I chatted briefly with Lucas and his wife, Neridah Waters who accompanies the action fromabove on xylophone and other sound fx. I asked whether Lucas, aided and abetted by the other Escapists (principally Matthew Ryan BGW’s co-writer as well as newcomer Sarah Winter), has any other stories to tell. This one had taken a year or more to put together, but I was delighted to hear their treasured notebook is full of more snippets for future delight. Don’t lose that notebook!

Boy Girl Wall was due to play Brisbane in 2009 but, after two shows, had to be cancelled through Stibbard’s then ill-health. The play went on to the Adelaide Fringe Festival in early 2010 where it was well received. A year on this beguiling production is all set to entertain once again and, I’m willing to bet, utterly charm the socks off local audiences during its already almost sold-out season at The Roundhouse.

I was reminded as I watched this sharp, classy piece of theatre of the importance of a nurturing gestation period for new work, and especially of the value of second and subsequent productions. Last year at the !Metro Arts season I spoke with a friend who’d seen the play in that original, short-lived season in Brisbane.  She was delighted at how much it had grown, expanded and developed, and yet it’s actually lost playing time – mostly the jokes – Nerida noted, in the interests of tightening up the central narrative. This production feels a little tighter, faster and funnier without ever losing its freshness or feeling slick.

Get acquainted with the delights of boy girl wall before it leaves town to charm the rest of the world – as it most certainly will!

PS … and just so you know, there’s a hidden hommage in the show to one of Lucas’ former USQ classmates – the real ‘Alethea Jones.’ It’s a rich confection, indeed!